PHOTO STORY: Inaugural Cass County Pridefest draws hundreds to Dowagiac

Published 3:11 pm Monday, June 10, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — Hundreds of people of all ages, genders and backgrounds descended on the Dowagiac Library Pavilion Saturday to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community at the inaugural Cass County Pridefest.

Sponsored by dozens of businesses and organizations including Corewell Health, Honor Credit Union, Lyons Industries and Slope Frozen Treats, the family-friendly event featured a drag show, sponsor, non-profit and artisan booths – including Lyons Industries, Forte Coffee, Baker’s Rhapsody, Cass County Democrats, Hidden Acres Safe Haven Lake Michigan Credit Union, The Bottle Run, Van Buren County Domestic Violence Coalition and more – activities for children, food trucks, a DJ and live entertainment. 

“The whole vision behind Pridefest was always that we want to be like the community festivals that are so popular here,” said Gerik Nasstrom, Program Director at Outcenter Southwest Michigan. “Queer people have always been here ao let’s create an event like it’s always been here… Our hope is to fit right into the culture that we grew up loving. Queer people have always been here so if they were allowed to do events 20 years ago, what would that event look like?”

Pride Committee members, vendors and guests were impressed with the turnout and feedback from the event, which saw more than 750 people attend.

“When I started working with Outcenter on this event on their committee for Pride and we hatched this idea that Cass County could support it, I was 100 percent sure that it could, and it happened,” said Outcenter Board Member Shannon Lyons. “So being able to see everybody in the community – from families, to allies and the community itself – to have a place that’s safe to come and be together and just celebrate Pride. This is a dream – I could not have ever imagined this. We’re over the moon.”

“This is a great turnout, the fact that we exceeded the goal that we had set for ourselves mentally and personally is more than words can describe,” said B St. Cin, of Dowagiac. “It shows the support, it shows that this is needed here, it shows that people would be intrigued by it and that it’s something this city needs. It would open it up to more possibilities – more vendors, food trucks, sponsors, all of it. This is a great start for it.”

Mayor Don Lyons addressed the crowd and thanked the community for attending while also talking about the transformations taking place in cities across the country. His full speech can be found here.

“For a city to anticipate that it is going to be relevant, it’s going to grow and it’s going to be a good, solid city, it can’t be one that’s trying to hold on to the past,” he said. “That’s a fool’s errand. Anybody that does that is destined to fail. The arc of history is always going to be towards a more just society. With that thought in mind,there was always the issue of how Dowagiac should approach this new reality. I was determined that it was going to be a welcoming community, it was going to be one that this creative class of people would want to come to, would want to invest in and would want to be part of.”

The Outcenter has more Pride events scheduled for the area, including the second annual Michiana Pridefest from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Riverfront Park in Niles and the third annual Twin Cities Pridefest from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 22 at Dwight P. Mitchell Park in Benton Harbor. For both Shannon and St. Cin who grew up in Dowagiac, the success of the inaugural Cass County Pridefest is the start of something special.

“They need to move forward this way,” St. Cin said. “They need to open themselves up to newer ideas, to newer things to bring in because that would make this community actually thrive. Having more events go to more community outreach would help this community thrive in good ways.”

“For everybody that said ‘Dowagiac didn’t need this,’ ‘Cass County didn’t need this,’ ‘nobody was gonna be here,’ I beg to differ,” Shannon said. “This is proving that we do have a large community here and our voices count just as much as anybody else’s… The thing about Pride is it really is for everybody. It’s not just for the LGBTQ community, it is for anybody that loves somebody that’s part of the community and if you’re a human being, trust me, you know somebody that’s part of the community. Even if you think you don’t, you do. Diversity and difference has to be celebrated, not feared.”